Archive for June, 2013

June 23, 2013

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013: Study Visit (15th June)

by Suzy Walker-Toye

As soon as I see any study visit that I can get to in London I sign up for them. They are great. They allow students to go to exhibitions they may not have gone to and bounce ideas off each other. Having said that, as this one drew near and I did the pre-reading (see links at the bottom of this post), I started to not really look forward to it. The day came and I’d convinced myself it was going to be a huge disappointment. Why? Well a couple of reasons, one, the reviews linked to from the pre-reading didn’t really sell it as very interesting and two, it was at the photographers gallery. I haven’t been to the photographers for a very long time (in fact I’d never been to it at its new location) but each time in the past I’d always come away feeling disappointed that the photography on display was poor/dull/unpleasant/uninspiring, take your pick. So I’m very pleased to report that I thoroughly enjoyed this study visit despite all the odds. Whether the photographers gallery has just got better at picking photography or I’ve become more questioning of what “interesting” photography actually is, I’ll leave to the reader to decide 😉

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize is an annual prize of £30,000, which awards a living photographer, of any nationality, for a specific body of work in an exhibition or publication format, which has significantly contributed to photography in Europe between 1 October 2011 and 30 September 2012.

The exhibition was curated over the top two floors, 4 & 5 of the photographers gallery. It didnt seem to make any difference which you saw first so I’ll introduce the nominations in the order I saw them in the exhibition, floor 4 Mishka Henner & Chris Killip, then floor 5, Broomberg & Chanarin and Cristina De Middel. I think the things that really turned around the exhibition for me were the interviews with the artists (short videos which you could listen to on headphones on the 4th floor) and chatting with the tutor Simon. He challenged us to think about what is relevant for photography today. I’ve managed to find the interviews on vimeo so I’ve included them here for reference.

Mishka Henner – No Man’s Land (Exhibition)

Mishka Henner is nominated for his exhibition No Man’s Land at Fotografia Festival Internazionale di Roma, Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome (20 September – 28 October 2012). No Man’s Land presents google streetview images of prostitutes from all over europe to a soundtrack of birdsong from the various regions.

See this on vimeo here.

Mishka Henner, Carretera de Fortuna, Murcia, Spain, 2012 Mishka Henner, SS98, Cerignola Foggia, Italy, 2012

Mishka Henner, Contrada Vallecupa, Colonnella, Abruzzi, Italy, 2011 Mishka Henner, Carretera de Gandria, Oliva, Valencia, Spain, 2011

Despite Simon playing devils advocate and challenging our attitudes, I think most of the students agreed that this was the worst nominee, although the most controversial and therefore the most debated in the context of the study visit. Many of us were confused by the message in this one, and I think when you see the video above, this is because the artist isn’t coherent on what the message really is. Some students thought that he’d done this simply because he could get away with it, the “emperors new clothes” of photography. Some students didnt like it because it isn’t photography. It’s technically appropriation and curation of googles images and some amateur birdsong recordings. Many of the conversations were around the copyright implications of this one too. There were some students who were fine with the use of the google images, in fact one student mentioned going to Yosemite:

“Do we really need another photo of Yosemite? This guy using public domain images to express his vision instead.”

Whether he took the photos or not isn’t the problem I have with this work. My issue with it is that it isn’t an original idea to use google street view so if you are going to do it you should have a good foundation, a solid concept. It just seems like he’s jumping on the band wagon. The write up on the wall suggested that the work highlighted issues of surveillance and voyeurism, all well and good and so the work does, but is that something the curators of the photographers gallery felt compelled to write up there to give the work a bit of gravitas? Why doesn’t he express that in the video interview?

In the video, he was mostly talking about the process of the how he did the work he presents and not the why. He goes into more detail than you would think about the google process of image capture. He says that he uses forums where they talk about sexworkers but “he’s not really bothered about what their motivation is”, he just gets the coordinates of the girls to plug into google. He even says “there is no narrative underpinning to this work”. He’s interested in the sequence of images, how they happen every 5m etc and the possibility that they’d go on for ever. He tacks on the parallel that this hints at the oldest profession in the world but it seems like an afterthought. Some tiny way of explaining why he choose prostitues rather than just for the controversy that this might elicit. However, the tutor brought our attention to an interesting last comment in the video talking about the volume of an issue, is he hinting at the broader issue of surveillance and voyeurism? For me it didn’t hang together nicely, too many unresolved questions, fuzzy explanations and something smelt fishy about his motivations.

Chris Killip – What Happened: Great Britain 1970 –1990 (Exhibition)

Chris Killip is nominated for his exhibition What Happened – Great Britain 1970 –1990 at LE BAL, Paris (12 May – 19 August 2012). What Happened – Great Britain 1970 –1990 presents a series of black & white street photography images of working people in the north of England.

See this on vimeo here.

Chris Killip, Youth on Wall, Jarrow, Tyneside, 1976 Chris Killip, Boo and his rabbit, Lynemouth, 1983

Chris Killip, Helen and her hoola-hoop, Lynemouth, Northumberland, 1984 Chris Killip, Rocker and Rosie going home, Lynemouth, 1984

For me this was the least interesting to talk about in terms of the prize. Beautiful street photography, but I was left wondering why this had been nominated now? These images are 20-30 years old and have probably been in many exhibitions that would have been eligible over the years. The only conclusion I could come to was that there context had come back into public focus with the death of Maggie Thatcher. When I mentioned this to the tutors they seem to think this was likely and didn’t offer any competing explanation.

The video interview less interesting to me than the others probably because the work is self evident. There doesn’t need some grand explanation of the concept. Straight street photography from a bygone era which is pretty much what he says. A couple of interesting thoughts about these came up during our chats in the exhibition & over coffee, for example: does this style of photography still have relevance today? And it was interesting to see that Killip was immersed in local culture & known by people when he took these photographs (and, that he actually took these photographs!) This gave different side of photography than other nominees. I was also interested to note that floor four seemed to present images as fact, real historical documents (bring up photography as truth arguments) and were both based from exhibitions whereas all the next two, from floor five, play with fact & fictions and were presented as books. Clever and subtle curation on the part of the photographers gallery there to present different facets of the prize. As to the first question, yes, I think street photography will always have a place in contemporary photography because people will always want to document what other people are doing now and we love looking back on what was done then. I think the beauty of street photography only comes with time when the now passes into history and we can look back on it as then. In 30 years time, street photography taken today will be that much more exciting than those taken in 30 years (if we’re still using cameras and not some other whizzy gadget) will be to the people looking at it.

Winner: Broomberg and Chanarin – WAR PRIMER 2 (book)

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin are nominated for their publication War Primer 2 (MACK, 2012). And this entry won the prize.

War Primer 2 is a limited edition book that physically inhabits the pages of Bertold Brecht’s 1955 publication War Primer. Brecht’s photo-essay comprises 85 images, photographic fragments or collected newspaper clippings, that were placed next to a four-line poem, called ‘photo-epigrams’. Broomberg and Chanarin layered Google image search results for the poems over Brecht’s originals in 100 books.

See this on vimeo here.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Plate 12, 2011 Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Plate 23, 2011

I first came across the two winners when I blogged this early last year: what is conceptual photography. I found this an interesting continuation of their ongoing quest to explore how war is imaged and what the “truth” is. Also interesting to note that while the other students were disputing Mishka Henner’s right to be nominated for the prize with google streetview images they were strangely quiet about this one, which is also essentially found images appropriated for the artists own message, as was the original book. In this case though, there is a real message which is I think the crucial difference. The original book depicted found war images and expanded and explained them with mini poems and captions. The new images, silkscreened over the top of the originals extend or play with the poems and you can see hints of the original images beneath.

This project deserved to win (despite my preferring the the Afronauts – see below), the parting quote from the video above says its all…

“There is a moment that gets photographed and it is a moment of somebody suffering, and then that moment is turned into a photograph and then that photograph becomes a piece of currency that is then distributed around the world”

You just have to look at p51 of their book for just one example and there are many others. You can download your own copy of the war primer 2 free here.

Cristina De Middel – The Afronauts (book)

Cristina De Middel is nominated for her publication The Afronauts (self-published, 2011).

In 1964, after gaining independence, Zambia started a space programme in order to send the first African astronaut to the moon, the Afronauts blends fact and fiction with beautiful photographs.

See this on vimeo here.

Cristina De Middel, The Afronauts, 2012 Cristina De Middel, The Afronauts, 2012

Cristina De Middel, The Afronauts, 2012 Cristina De Middel, The Afronauts, 2012

This entry was my favourite. The tongue in cheek nature and playing with fiction and reality are what really attracts me to this. Its so creative and original. This injects some much needed fun into series of academic nominations. What is ‘real’? This is an analysis on truth in photography, and I think draws parallels with the winners who are also talking about photography as an inaccurate document which need interpreting with the ‘poems’.

“The pictures I was taking for newspapers were not true.”

My favourite image is the one that appears in the video at 02:00 of the man dreaming of the space race with his eyes closed and all the cut out stars behind him on the crumbling wall. Since this is her first book I am again wondering about how the nominations get chosen? How does a first self-published book get ‘seen’ to be nominated? It would be interesting to find out more information on how that side of the prize is worked out. Although she is entered in a number of other prizes. The photographers gallery blurb had this to say:

In addition to personal projects, De Middel has worked for publications such as Foam and Esquire, as well as various NGOs. Her work has been recognised by the National Photojournalism Prize Juan Cancelo (2009), Fnac Photographic Talent (2009) and the Humble Arts Women in Photography Project Grant (2011). She was a finalist at Open Call Guatephoto, Guatemala (2012), the winner of Photo Folio Review at Recontres de la Photographie, Arles, in 2012 and returned there as a participating artist this year. She was also a finalist at FotoPress, La Caixa, Spain this year.

The Afroanuts iPad app is available to download via www.ubicuostudio.com and I really enjoyed going through her projects and features on her website.

Previous winners of the prize are listed here.

Here are a few other write ups from the visit that I found online, I haven’t read them all yet but I look forward to going through them when I have some time:
We Are OCA
Ashley
Tad
Siegfried
Richard

ps: if anyone reading this is the lady or gentlemen who were taking photos of me while I was with headphones on listening to the interviews I’d love to see how that came out so please get in touch 🙂

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